Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
The 4th Annual Ocean City Film Festival, or OCFF 2020, gave out its awards on Sunday, March 8, at Seacrets Nightclub. The award for Best Short Film that Makes You Feel Good went to Go Go, Boy! by Orianna Oppice. Oppice wasn’t in attendance, but her producer on the film was there to accept the award. It came after a bit of technical difficulty. Go Go, Boy! played as part of seven films selected for a bundle called “Feel Good Films.” The bundle was scheduled to screen twice, the first time on Friday, March 6 and the second-time on that following, Sunday morning. Unfortunately, both times, the film’s ending glitched and audiences didn’t get to see the complete film. Luckily, organizers were able to rectify the situation by giving the film a special screening right before the awards ceremony.
The 6-minute piece is about a young, African-American boy in 1990 named Bobby who is living in the WWF heyday. He’s pressured to be tough and macho like the wrestlers on TV, but in his fantasies Bobby is doing ballet or Broadway-style dancing. In a prepared statement before the screening, Oppice said, “He dances to his own beat. In this new world, he can be free of the wrestling ring’s ropes, free from society’s expectations of who he should be. Here, he is allowed to feel accepted, worthy, and fabulous… This project gets to the root question: are we creating a world for children in which they can flourish by being themselves? Through this film, I can create space for audiences to fall into Bobby’s private world. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, they can be alone with him, see the doubt and fear in his face, and perhaps feel empathy for that fearfulness we all felt as children.”
For more information on Oppice, this film and her other works, visit her website.
Another film in the running for the award in the “Feel Good Films” category was Take Me to the Stars by Justin Scott Lawrence. Lawrence graduated from the Los Angeles Film School (LAFS) in 2019. Take Me to the Stars was his thesis film. It focuses on a young child who is living with his single parent, after tragically losing the other. The child’s grief is explored through some science-fiction elements. This includes possible aliens from outer space.
Lawrence, who was born in Georgia and raised in North Carolina, says the film was personal but not exactly his life. Yes, he’s always been a UFO enthusiast, so that’s where the science-fiction elements originate. Yes, his parents were single because they got divorced. However, this film isn’t about a child’s parents being divorced. It’s about a 10-year-old boy going through the trauma of having his mother be accidentally killed. Lawrence said that he wanted to explore spirituality and ideas of what Heaven is.
His script was 16 pages, but it went through a lot of drafts. He says he penned about 23 drafts, written over the course of about six months, in order to get it to shooting capacity. The child character in his film is disabled and requires a wheelchair. That wheelchair is somewhat robotic. The wheelchair can speak and move on its own. Lawrence said that in his early drafts, the boy’s wheelchair was a lot more powerful or magical, as well as more antagonistic. However, he learned most of the visual effects would have to be done in camera, meaning not a lot, if any CGI.
With that limitation, he revised and re-wrote. Eventually, it became clear that the antagonist would instead be the boy’s surviving father. Lawrence says casting was easy. The young boy is Carl, played by a child actor named Paul Anderson, who happened to be the brother of his sound designer who is Colombian in descent. Lawrence then cast the father based on Anderson, trying to match his looks. He hired an actor named Vip Paruthi who is of Indian descent. Paruthi’s character suffers from depression and could be on the verge of alcoholism. Lawrence auditioned several actors, but he chose Paruthi who happened to be the first guy through the door and who had personal experience in his family of alcoholism.
Lawrence says Paruthi not only gave a good performance drawing from his own experiences, but Paruthi was also able to assist in Anderson’s performance. Lawrence filmed the short in four days. Anderson was in the majority of the scenes. Those scenes were done at Lake Arrowhead, in a cabin that was owned by Anderson’s parents, so the child actor was in familiar surroundings. Yet, Lawrence reports Anderson still had difficulty. Anderson didn’t always know his lines or was confused. It took several takes for Lawrence to get what he wanted. Paruthi had to take time out to coach the child and through bonding exercises was able to help Anderson give Lawrence what he needed.
The film was one of several in the OCFF 2020 line-up that dealt with grief and loss. Lawrence was the only one that did so using science-fiction elements. From staging an alien abduction to creating a robotic wheelchair, he certainly showed the lengths that can be done, even when you don’t have a lot of resources, meaning a low-budget, but instead a whole lot of imagination and heart.
You can follow Justin Scott Lawrence on various social media platforms.
One last film that was in the running for the award in the “Feel Good Films” category was It’s Time to Get Lost by Kenny Wooten. The film is described as about Teresa, a young black girl who goes on a spontaneous adventure with her brother to return a valuable postcard. Like Lawrence, this was Wooten’s thesis film but Wooten was a student of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia where he shot the movie. Yet, Wooten is actually from Maryland. Unlike Lawrence though, Wooten’s film isn’t about loss or grief. During the Q&A after the Friday screening, I commented that Wooten basically embodied the spirit for which “Feel Good Films” was created. His movie is about a spontaneous adventure and was made in perhaps comparatively as spontaneous and as loose a manner.
Don’t be confused. It was fun, but still work. Wooten describes that scheduling was a nightmare. He didn’t have a crew. It was mainly just him operating camera and doing sound by himself with his two actors. He said it took four months to complete the shoot. Some days, he only had one or two hours to film. He didn’t do a lot of takes. He had to get what he needed and move on to the next scene. He said the actors really made the film.
Wooten said that the film was inspired by his actual little sister. He wanted to show that people who get labeled “weird” were really the people who have the most fun. Yes, he wrote a script, but Wooten said there was never a final version. It wasn’t anything strictly observed either. He said it was always fluid. He said “90% of this film was improvised.” He said for a lot of the scenes, the actors filled in the gaps and brought things to life. Briana Gause was the actress who played Teresa, the main character. She really embodied that weird yet fun persona. From her clothes to her accouterments, she looks like a throwback to the 80’s, as if she just stepped out a John Hughes flick.
He also said that his favorite sequence was that of the two siblings skating around Philadelphia. He said it gave him an excuse to skate around the city. As such, Wooten’s film is a breath of fresh air, particularly in cinema about African-American people. Typically, Hollywood films don’t depict black people without shrouding their experiences in tragedy or some social problem. It’s rare that we get a film that isn’t about black people suffering. It’s rare to get such a film of black people simply having fun and doing something as benign as skating the streets of Philly.
For more about Wooten and his project, check out this article.